Category: indie beer

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.New Seasons Market, the…

I Can Hear the Heart Beating as One.

New Seasons Market, the local grocery chain, is getting good at beer. They’ve been partnering with Portland breweries for exclusive releases. Four Hearts Beat as One is their second collaboration with Gigantic Brewing (the first was the fresh hopped Hop Bot). Four Hearts is a blend of Belgian Quadruples aged in bourbon barrels two years. 

Bourbon is a nice compliment to many beers, but it seems a little brash for Belgian ales. A Belgian Quadruple is fruity, subtle, balanced. Bourbon is hot, sweet, and rough.

But Four Hearts Beat As One pulls off the impossible. This beer is the perfect marriage of whiskey and fruitcake. Up front, Four Hearts is all figgy plums,

picking up a little char off the barrels. In the middle, you get a nice vanilla sweetness. Then the finish gives you the dry bourbon heat. It’s not astringent or anything, just warm and inviting. Very tasty.

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas TreeRarely has a…

The Cat Are My Stash & Pissed on the Xmas Tree

Rarely has a beer’s label so accurately described it’s contents. Gigantic Brewing’s new winter IPA paraphrases John Mallet at Bell’s Brewery describing Hopslam. It’s surprising to think that five, ten years ago, a dank, piney beer was revolutionary. The catty, harsh flavors of American hops were, for centuries, considered gross by most. But somehow, American brewers convinced us all that this is the taste we wanted, and they weren’t wrong.

I miss the hoppy tingle of an old school double IPA. I miss the grating bitterness on my tongue. Sipping on a pint of The Cat Ate My Stash was a helpful reminder of just how far palates have shifted since I started drinking beer ten years ago. Everything these days is sweet and tastes instantly familiar, like cookies and fresh fruit. It’s nice to taste something a little challenging for a change.

Rethinking Local BeerAs the number of breweries erupts across…

Rethinking Local Beer

As the number of breweries erupts across the country, it seems every town has a local brewery. What makes it a local beer besides the address? The hops come from Washington, the malt is imported from Germany, the yeast is grown in a lab in California. The only thing that makes it local is the zip code and the local kids slinging samples.

There are a number of breweries trying to create truly local beer. Here in Oregon, De Garde ferment all their beers with yeast and bacteria floating on the breeze, and Upright Brewing adds loads of local fruit and the occasional flower to their barrel aged beers. But out in Illinois, Scratch Brewing goes one step further by foraging in the woods around the brewery for novel ingredients.

I was fascinated when I read about Scratch in Brewing Local. The brewery is located near Ava, Illinois a town with a population in the triple digits. It’s the middle of nowhere, but that’s sort of the point. On the land around the brewery, they grow ingredients for beer and food for the pub. Beyond the cultivated land they forage for wild ingredients, and push the limits of what can go into a beer. 

For example, two years ago, Scratch went to the Great American Beer Festival with beers made using all the parts of a tree. Single Tree: Hickory features, hickory nuts and hulls, and toasted hickory bark in place of hops. They brewed beers with birch sap instead of water. They’ve brewed with grape leaves and burdock roots and sassafras.

Reading about Scratch got me so excited to make my own beer. So often, the homebrewing literature focuses on making beer the right way, the way professionals do it, but on a smaller scale. I have no interest in that. If I wanted to drink a perfectly clean Pilsner, I could find a myriad examples at the grocery store. If I want to drink a beer made with basil from my own garden, I’m the only one who can make it.

I absorbed these lessons but figured, unless I find myself in southern Illinois, I’ll never actually taste a Scratch made beer. But lo and behold, on the bottom shelf at Belmont Station was a small trove of these idiosyncratic beers. The prices were steep, which I should have guessed, a lot of work goes into making a beer with wild cherry bark. But I could swing ten dollars for a little bottle of Spring Tonic, a beer made with dandelion, ginger, carrot tops, and clover in place of hops and fermented with a wild yeast blend, the same blend they use for their sourdough bread.

So what does this wild beer taste like? Sarah says it smells like chinese food. She’s not wrong, the combination of ginger and the sourdough yeast smell like vinaigrette, throw in the dandelion greens and you have a salad. The flavor is balanced. The sourness is tempered, bringing a lactic brightness without the sour tang. It tastes, oddly enough, like kombucha. It tastes like those ginger and carrot drinks they sell at Whole Foods or whatever. Something your weird aunt would swear by to fight off a cold. Spring Tonic tastes really healthy, but really good.

Is Scratch’s Spring Tonic going to be the next IPA? Nope. Is it going to start a trend of breweries making beer with carrots? God, I hope not. But it represents a new way of brewing: look closely at what is already growing around you and make beer with it. 

It doesn’t have to be made from foraged roots and stems. Highland Park Brewing in Los Angeles makes beer from guavas grown in their parking lot and  lemons grown in locals’ backyards. The beers may taste indistinguishable from one made with canned fruit grown in Peru, but the taste of the neighborhood will be obvious to those who donated their extra persimmons.

Years in the OakFor the latest release of Adam From the Wood,…

Years in the Oak

For the latest release of Adam From the Wood, Alan Sprints left his signature strong ale in a variety of barrels for three whole years. Usually, when a barrel is left that long it turns sour and funky, and only good for adding a little oomph to a blended lambic. Somehow, despite sitting in porous oak for months on end, this batch never seemed to pick up those spoiling buggers. Maybe that’s the antimicrobial effect of alcohol. The finished beer is 12% ABV.

Adam From the Wood’s high alcohol content also makes natural bottle conditioning difficult to gauge. Hair of the Dog released the new batch completely still, and unlike in past years, it is clearly labeled as such. The beer pours like cold water. No amount of agitation will bring out bubbles. But that doesn’t mean it tastes like syrup. There’s a hint of fuzz on the tongue. Who knows, in a few years it might build up into a proper head. 

That doesn’t mean Adam From the Wood doesn’t taste great right now, flat. The scent is chocolaty with a fruity edge. Intense bittersweet cocoa powder meets plummy sweetness. The body is smooth, despite being flat, it isn’t syrupy or sticky. The flavor is a blend of brownie batter and aged ruby Port, thick and decadent yet elegantly dry. The wood in the name is new oak barrels. The fresh barrels add a hint of vanilla but no spirit flavor, not that the beer needs anymore going on. The long aging shows up around the edges. That old soy sauce flavor adds an umami note that could be off putting, but in this blend adds a counterpoint to the fruity sweetness. 

I will definitely be sitting on my extra bottles for a few years. There isn’t much room to improve the flavor, but a little carbonation would nice. There might still be a few bottles available this weekend at Hair of the Dog’s 25th anniversary event. Also look out for Don, a new “double barleywine” named for beloved Portland publican Don Younger.

Number of the Beast6.66% ABV, 66.6 IBUS, Dark Thoughts is a…

Number of the Beast

6.66% ABV, 66.6 IBUS, Dark Thoughts is a wicked brew. 

I’ve never been entirely sold on Black IPA or Cascadian Dark Ale, the premise always seemed a little silly. A mix of stout and IPA? Who asked for that? But it’s held on as a style for a reason, that peculiar blend can be very tasty.

Dark Thoughts smells like oranges and burnt wood. It’s not smoky. It’s like peeling a tangerine sitting near last nights campfire. It’s fruity upfront with an ashy finish. It sounds weird, but it is really good.

The Horror!We are in the midst of a Pilsner renaissance. The…

The Horror!

We are in the midst of a Pilsner renaissance. The style which was once the epitome of corporate beer is suddenly ultra-hip. Every cool brewery makes a handful of IPAs, a barrel aged stout, and a Pilsner. In order to move the trend even further, brewers from Wayfinder, Modern Times’ Portland outpost, and Heater Allen made Terrifico, which they describe as an “Italian Style Horror Pils.” Apparently the Italians are making good pils.

In the Beer Bible, Jeff Alworth spent a whole chapter on emerging trends in Italian beer. One of the touchstones of the Italian brewing is Tipopils, brewed by Birrificio Italiano since the 1990s. It’s a straightforward pils but bent slightly to reveal new flavors. Where traditional pilsners are fermented cold, some near freezing, Tipopils is fermented warm allowing the yeast to form fruity esters and a fuller body. And while it’s fermenting, Tipopils is hit with two separate dry hopping charges, comepletely unheard of in a Pilsner. But it’s not like they use American hops. Tipopils uses all German hops for a super herbal, spicy flavor. 

Terrifico follows the same rule book. Over a base of light Pilsner malt, brewers added tons of Tettnanger and Spalter hops in the kettle and then dry-hopped with Polaris hops, a German variety released in 2012 known for its extremely high alpha acid content. The 4.7% ABV is met with a surprising 42 IBUs. Terrifico is gold, brilliantly clear, and bursting with herbal aromas. It smells like a hybrid herb: half mint, half basil. The flavor is crisp and spicy with a finish like an organic cleaning spray. The malt backbone is crackery like a saltine. It’s really hoppy, but lacks the usual dankness and fruit you’d find in an IPA.

Professionally HomebrewedIs it insulting to say it tastes like…

Professionally Homebrewed

Is it insulting to say it tastes like homebrew? Captured by Porches made Harvest Ale for Food Front, the co-op grocery store up the street. It’s an amber ale made with hand malted grains and a lightly phenolic Belgian yeast. It tastes like someone tried to recreate Fat Tire but used more interesting ingredients. The malt flavor is toasty and warm. The yeast adds a subtle spiciness. And a handful of crystal hops add a bright citrus note. It tastes like it was made in a kitchen, but is that bad?

A Taste of AutumnLast month, we visited the pFriem Family…

A Taste of Autumn

Last month, we visited the pFriem Family Brewers tasting room on our way up the mountain to pick apples. The fresh hop beers weren’t quite ready, so we opted to try a selection of fall seasonals. The festbier was fine. The Jammy Pale was a little too much. But the Pumpkin Bier was surprisingly delicious. The weather was just turning and the subtle spices matched the chill. It smells like fall. Not like a Yankee candle approximating fall, like a kitchen full of baking pies and freshly fallen leaves. We only got a taste, but both Sarah and I wanted more. 

We picked up a couple corked bottles while stocking up on fresh hop IPAs and finally got around to them. The first thing that hit me from the bottled version was the Belgian yeast. Those classic yeasty phenols gave off a clove-like scent which mingled nicely with the added spices, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. The beer definitely lost some of it’s subtle squash flavor in the refrigerator. Drunk fresh, it has a subtle roast vegetable sweetness. The finish is dry with a hint of heat from the fresh ginger. It’s hard to recreate the same experience as at the pub, but it was so, so close. 

Hop TonicIt’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double…

Hop Tonic

It’s been a while since we’ve sampled a good double IPA. It seems that the new hazy IPA trend has been covering up a more sinister drop in alcohol. All the hazies I’ve seen lately are 7% ABV and under. Makes you wonder. 

But Hair of the Dog recently released Green Dot, an extra special 9.5% ABV version of their classic Blue Dot double IPA. It’s a boozy beast designed to deliver optimal hop flavor. Like a tincture, the higher alcohol absorbs hop oils and delivers the resins directly to the user. A spoonful honeyed malt sweetness meets a juicy fruit flavor – melon and mango – before being swept away in a therapeutic wave of floral piney bitterness. The finish is a little medicinal, like cherry cough syrup, completing the image.

Catch and ReleaseCaptured by Porches always sounded more like a…

Catch and Release

Captured by Porches always sounded more like a midwestern post-rock band than a brewery. The tiny operation has had many ups and downs over the last ten years. Somehow, despite bad press, some really off beers, and bouncing from Portland to St. Helens to Gresham, the little brewery that could keeps going. And they are now malting their own barley, too.

Captured by Porches is a one man operation, Dylan Goldsmith seems to make all the beer even after a decade in business. He started as a homebrewer supplying house parties. His homebrew was so popular, his friends never left, hanging on his porch all night – thus the name. 

The first Captured brewery was wedged into a weird space behind the Clinton St. Theatre on some hand-me-down equipment found on Craigslist. The brewery moved from cramped corner to cramped corner – from an old gas station on highway 30, to an industrial park in St. Helens, and now the backend of a health food store turned organic pizza pub in Gresham.

Captured By Porches has never garnered a lot of press. Every few years, someone hunts down Goldsmith for an interview about beer and homebrewing and sustainability, but he seems more interested in making beer than self promotion. They never opened a proper taproom, but they entered the Portland food cart scene. The Captured by Porches beer buses popped up all over town selling beer from converted campers to thirsty foodies.

But a few years ago, Goldsmith and his business partner/wife broke up. He kept the brewery; she got the beer buses. The brewery nearly fell off the face of the earth. The business had to pull distribution and focus on the smaller accounts that actually sold the beer. They continue to sell beer at local farmer’s markets and in small grocers and bottle shops but you won’t see Captured by Porches in the Whole Foods anymore. 

But I’ve been hesitant to pick up anything new from Captured, their beers do not have a great reputation. Their Invasive Species IPA made it into the finals of our grand all Oregon IPA taste off in 2012, then flunked out when we got two very off bottles. They had notable issues in the early 2010s with swing top bottles which were often infected, and came with a dollar bottle deposit. Those early bottles soured reviewers on RateBeer and BeerAdvocate. A single bad bottle can turn into even worse word of mouth.

But I was at the local co-op grocery and in between the hazy IPAs was Wind & Rain ESB. I had a hankering for something a little maltier, so I picked it up. It wasn’t until I got home that I learned the beer was made with Full Pint barley bred at Oregon State University, grown locally, and malted at the brewery. In 

2015, Captured by Porches started malting nearly all the grain in their beers. That’s insane. I had to try it.

Wind & Rain is a malty brew with a lot of character. It’s not just sweet or toasty. It’s tastes like bran flakes or wild rice. It’s slightly, slightly smokey. The caramel notes are kept in check by a firm bitterness and a hint of yeasty fruit. One sip and I was hooked. What else could they be making? So I went pack for an Oregon Sunshine golden ale and the reformulated Invasive Species. Both have a tasty malt flavor, but each shows off a different side of the grain.

Oregon Sunshine is like a sandwich, nice toasted bread notes with a seedy, grassy flavor topped with a hint of pickle and an oniony umami. Invasive Species is an old school IPA with plenty of bitterness backed by a malty sweetness. The flavor is toasted, nearly burnt like popcorn heated on the stovetop. There’s a raw grassiness underneath emphasized by the old school pine and citrus hops.

In a market dominated by massive multinational craft brewers – and small brewers aiming to become massive multinationals, it’s intriguing to see a truly tiny business overcome some serious struggles and continues to push the envelope. And somehow, despite using their own hand malted grain, Captured can still sell pint sized bottles for less than five bucks. If you see them around, I encourage you to give them another try.